Tamala Jones stars in and executive produces "Every Breath She Takes" on Lifetime. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
LOS ANGELES, March 24 (UPI) -- Tamala Jones and Jackée Harry said Every Breath She Takes, premiering Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT on Lifetime, provided opportunities for each of them to mentor others. Jones plays Jules, a woman who's abusive husband, Billy (Brian White), fakes his death.
Jones is also an executive producer with her partners Sean Dwyer and Elizabeth Cullen. When they offered White the role of Billy, he asked to executive produce too, and Jones recognized the value of allowing actors to take authority positions.
"The more the merrier, especially as African-Americans in this business," Jones told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "If I can help him in any way get that producers hat, because someone helped me get it, I was more than happy to do so."
White added Every Breath She Takes to several other executive producer credits on films and television shows. Every Breath is only Jones' second production as a producer after 2004's Nora's Hair Salon.
Jones said she was developing a film about Motown singer Tammi Terrell, which fell apart over music rights to her songs with Marvin Gaye. Jones said Every Breath was important to her so she could portray Jules' overcoming Billy's manipulations.
"To me, it was a story about triumph," Jones said. "Mental abuse, to me, is the worst kind."
Continuing to abuse Jules after his orchestrated death, Billy shows up at Jules' downtown studio. Jules doesn't know if he's back or if she's seeing things, and her reactions disturb neighbors.
"The police finally came," Jones said. "They were like, 'We had several calls.' [My] screams were like someone was seriously being attacked."
Harry plays Billy's mother, whom Jules visits in one scene. Jones offered the role to Harry, and Harry gave interviews for the film to support Jones' production.
"I had a lot more help than they have now so I'm trying to give my help where I can," Harry said. "I'm more like a grande dame."
Some of the mentors Harry credits with helping her career include NBC President Brandon Tartikoff. Tartikoff gave Harry the role of neighbor Sandra in 227 in 1985 after her audition, launching her comedy career after a stint on the soap opera Another World.
Harry also said she was grateful to Oprah Winfrey for raising her profile, and actors Colleen Dewhurst and Della Reese for teaching her work ethic. Harry also met Maya Angelou through Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson and New York theater producer George Faison.
Angelou gave Harry a confidence boost early in her career by calling her brave.
"I said, 'Why am I so brave?'" Harry said. "[Angelou] said, 'Because you're out here alone being a professional and acting.' Now I'm finding out it does take courage to go out on your own and continue working."
After 227, Harry said many Hollywood titans gave her significant roles without even asking her to audition, such as Jones did wtih Every Breath She Takes. That includes Rodney Dangerfield offering her a role in his 1992 comedy Ladybugs.
"I call it divine guidance and I've had it all my life," Harry said. "People see you trying and they see you succeeding, they know you want to work."
Jones also credits her big break to a celebrity benefactor. Will Smith recommended her to the director of her 1997 comedy Booty Call, her first lead role after guest starring in episodes of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Wayans Brothers and JAG.
Fresh Prince executive producer Jeff Pollack directed Booty Call, so Smith recommended Jones for the role of Tommy Davidson's girlfriend in the sex comedy. Davidson and Jamie Foxx have comic misadventures looking for prophylactics for their night with ladies Jones and Vivica A. Fox.
"It's really thanks to Will Smith," Jones said. "I can only say that I did a good job in the audition but he definitely put in a good word and I got the job."
After Booty Call, Jones had roles in movies like Next Friday, The Ladies Man and Head of State, and a long running role on Castle. Jones said her longevity has been the result of a combination of forcing Hollywood to see her in different roles, and mentors having the vision to consider her.
"The role for Castle was not written for an African-American," Jones said. "I begged the casting director just let me get in there and if they like me, they like me and if they don't, they don't. Just let me do it."
Harry said she was also typecast in comedies in her career. Harry said she is seeking out opportunities to show her dramatic skills like Every Breath She Takes, and her current role on the soap opera Days of Our Lives.
Harry said her scene in Every Breath felt natural because it was written with Harry's natural cadence in mind.
"They wrote it for me so they put my meter of speaking," Harry said. "The more complicated you write, the better it is for me."